The complete guide to staying fit in your 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s

As you get older, you don't need to lose your fitness levels.
As you get older, you don't need to lose your fitness levels.

There’s no secret to living a long and healthy life. You can be just as fit in your 50s as you were in your 20s. All you need is time and exercise. Use this guide to become your fittest, strongest self – no matter how old you are.

Read more: Fitness secrets from our 2017 MH cover guys

Your 20s

The breakdown

This is the time to find out what exercise or sport suits you best. You’re in peak physical shape, so trying out new things will never be easier. Your muscle mass, bone density and aerobic capacity are all in optimal condition.

“Men should take advantage of this power by incorporating resistance training with explosive and plyometric exercises to become fit and strong,” advises David Leith, biokineticist at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa.

Your play: Train smart

The precise type of training you should do will differ depending on your training goals. To remain strong and fit, follow this formula:

  • Incorporate regular resistance training (at least three times a week, with emphasis placed on functional moves which allow your joints full range of motion).
  • Easy aerobic training two to three times a week.
  • HIIT once to twice per week.
  • Include basic injury-prevention “stability” or mobility exercises. These can be performed as individual sessions like yoga or Pilates, or use them as a warm-up or cool-down for your main workout.

Don’t allow your youthful enthusiasm to get the better of you. Progressively increasing your training is crucial to preventing injuries. Leith cautions against overtraining. “This often occurs in people who are starting a new sport, especially running, leading to recurring niggles and more serious injuries."

Read more: Use this workout plan to master the Superman push-up in under a month

Your 30s

The breakdown

Life becomes more complicated for you in your 30s. You’ve started a family and increased your responsibilities at work. Not only is finding time to train difficult but training itself becomes harder. Your metabolism starts slowing down and gaining body fat happens more quickly than before. Leith cautions men at this age against falling out of their training habits. “De-training occurs rapidly; and starting again is tough, both mentally and physically.” He recommends you train in a more time-efficient manner to ensure you stay fit. 

Your play: Plan ahead

Your increased commitments mean you might find yourself with less time to train. Leith advises you plan your sessions beforehand, so that when you arrive you’re ready to spring into action.

Focusing on shorter sessions will be more rewarding and feasible – ensuring adequate rest time between sessions.

He recommends you reassess your training load to make sure it’s still feasible. If you’re short on time, he advises you avoid splitting your sessions into upper versus lower body. Instead, perform more full-body workouts, and combine strength and endurance into a single session.

Include quick spinning sessions into your training. Alternatively, go for short, fast runs.

Man and dog going for a run

Read more: Cristiano Ronaldo’s Guide to a champion’s six-pack

Your 40s

The breakdown

Your experience from the previous two decades will serve you well as you continue training at this age. In your 40s you’re at risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Along with a healthy diet and adequate sleep, exercise becomes a form of preventative medicine to stave off these diseases. Leith says maintaining regular resistance training and appropriate loading activities, such as running and hiking, is essential to prevent sarcopenia (age-related decline in muscle mass) and osteoporosis (reduced bone-mineral density).

Your play: Focus on mobility

In your 20s, you could skip flexibility and stability exercises without suffering the consequences; now, that decision could cost you your range of motion.

Long days of sitting behind your desk often result in lower back pain and restricted movement, making mobility exercises essential. “While maintaining other resistance training and cardiovascular training, it’s important to perform regular stability and activation work to promote sound postural alignment and joint mobility,” says Leith.

But mobility exercises aren’t just good for your joints; they’ll allow you to perform your lifts better. Leith recommends you include them in your warm-up before your resistance-training sessions.

For men concentrating primarily on gym training, Leith suggests performing more full-body sessions with compound lifts. These will provide the greatest benefit towards your training goals.

If you’ve returned to training after skipping the gym in your 30s, Leith recommends you increase your weight training progressively, just as someone in their 20s would who was new to training.

Read more: Rugby player Stefan Terblanche shares his advice on building monster muscle and fitness

Your 50s

The breakdown

You’ve reached your golden age. But this is not the time to hang up your gloves. Instead, adjust your training to match what your body can do. With dwindling muscle mass and bone density, you’re no longer exercising to look good; you’re exercising to prevent major injuries (and to stay alive). Your joints are your biggest issue at this age. Prevent falls and fractures by incorporating balance and proprioception training into your routine.

Your play: Quality over quantity

At this age, the quality of your training is more beneficial to you. This means performing exercises with sound form and through full range of motion. “Be careful not to injure yourself, and don’t rush your training,” advises Leith. He recommends maintaining a proper warm-up with dynamic stretches, and cool-down with static stretches.

Regular resistance training is your friend at this age. Include at least two sessions a week into your routine to offset the decline in muscle mass and bone density. Focus on functional movement patterns that make performing daily activities easier.

Modify your exercises if you’re having trouble with your joints – use less weight or incorporate aqua training into your programme.

Aim to maintain regular cardiovascular training, about three to four times a week, for 30 minutes a session. Keep these sessions interesting by heading outdoors for a hike for one of these sessions.

Older couple going for a bike ride

This article was originally published on

Image credit: iStock 

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